Contains No Bourbon

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After much speculation, I got a press release this morning from MillerCoors clarifying what we all thought to be the case regarding their newest creation, Miller Fortune. Here’s what they had to say:

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News Service wrote a story (“MillerCoors Seeks Spirits Fans With Bourbon-Like Lager”) about a new beer from MillerCoors called Miller Fortune, that we are launching the week of February 10.

Since that story ran, there have been several follow-up stories that inaccurately portray Miller Fortune as being a bourbon-flavored beer. That is simply not true and we’d like to set the record straight for anyone interested in writing a story in the future.

WHAT IS MILLER FORTUNE?
Miller Fortune is an exciting new beer with a 6.9% ABV. It features a rich golden color, brewed with caramel malt and cascade hops to achieve layers of flavor and a distinctly smooth finish. Our beer was brewed to deliver the complexity and depth that appeals to spirit drinkers. Spirit inspired…yes. Spirit infused…no. As many of you know, the beer industry as a whole has lost seven share points to spirits (five) and wine (two) in the last 10 years. Miller Fortune was created to fight against these losses and take back legal-drinking age spirits drinkers/occasions. So, you can say it has been inspired by the success of spirits competition and it is a darker beer that may look more bourbon-like in a glass.

WHAT MILLER FORTUNE IS NOT?
Miller Fortune is not bourbon-like or a bourbon-flavored beer.

I almost feel sorry for MillerCoors. That they would have to send out this release says a lot about the state of mainstream journalism, because that’s who got the story so wrong. What I think this reveals is that the mainstream and business press is not capable of covering the beer industry any longer. For so many years, they talked about numbers, about market share, about marketing; almost everything to do with the business, except for the beer itself, its flavor. But now that beer with flavor is kind of a big deal, they no longer know what to do. The business press booted it all over the place on this one, though Time magazine’s assigning it to a health reporter was even worse.

If I may be so bold as to suggest, the mainstream press needs to hire people who know something about beer to cover it effectively and accurately. Not business writers, not wine writers, not health writers: beer writers. I know of at least 130 members of the North American Guild of Beer Writers who would be pleased to accept a paid assignment from Bloomberg, Business Insider, Time or any number of news outlets who for years have been, for the most part, not covering beer very well, assigning beer stories to reporters who did not, and apparently still do not, really understand it. With over 2,700 American breweries, and even more internationally, there’s plenty to keep us busy. Just call one of us next time. We know the difference between a bourbon beer and one inspired by it.

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Miller Fortune: Bourbon & Cascades

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Okay, this is my third post today about Miller Fortune, the new “bourbon-like lager” from MillerCoors meant to address their loss of market share to distilled spirits. I’ll reserve judgment on the beer itself until my sample arrives and also until after it’s had a chance in the marketplace. Besides, it’s already been well-covered by Beverage Daily, Bloomberg, Business Insider and Time Magazine.

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But there’s certainly some oddities in the way they’re presenting it, whether by the mainstream press or by MillerCoors. As usual, it seems like they’re focusing a lot on the packaging — ooh, it’s black — and other marketing and not as much on the beer itself. One account describes the packaging as “jet-black, angular bottles meant to ‘evoke a guy in a tapered, athletic-cut suit.’” Uh-huh, that’s just what I was thinking of when I looked at it. The beer is 6.9% a.b.v., closer to an IPA than the usual light lager, though humorously Business Insider claims Coors Light is 5.9% instead of its actual 4.2%.

Then there’s trying to get bars and restaurants to serve it in a whiskey glass. Apparently, “[t]he rocks glass is intended to set Miller Fortune apart the same way the orange slice has made Blue Moon one of the company’s fastest-growing brews and its answer to the craft-beer juggernaut.” The idea is, of course, to make it seem more spirits-like, but it just seems gimmicky to me. It’s one thing to design a special glass to enhance the flavors but quite another to just pick a glass meant for something else in the hopes that people will make the association between the two.

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I don’t quite get the bourbon association, either. It wasn’t aged in a bourbon barrel, like many beers being brewed these days by smaller breweries, yet it’s referred to as a “bourbon-like lager.” The Bloomberg article says it has a “complex flavor hinting at bourbon” while Business Insider calls it a “bourbon-flavored beer.” The beer labels says it’s a “Spirited Golden Lager” while RateBeer categorizes it as an Amber/Vienna Lager while Beer Advocate has it listed as an American Amber/Red Lager. But apart from MillerCoors trying to draw an association to bourbon and spirits drinkers, and claiming bourbon makers as their inspiration, I don’t know where any bourbon flavors would be coming from.

Bloomberg brings up that they used some Cascade hops, saying it’s “a golden lager brewed in part with Cascade hops to give it a citrusy bite and caramel malt to impart an amber hue” and that “the flavor is moderately bitter with hints of sweetness, resting somewhere between a craft beer and a light lager.” So nothing about bourbon or being bourbon-flavored or bourbon-like, as far as I can tell. And the few people who’ve reviewed it on Beer Advocate and RateBeer likewise make no mention of any bourbon character. But perhaps the most hilarious statement was made by Time magazine, who states that “Miller Fortune is brewed with Cascade hops to give it its bourbon-like flavor.” That must be why Anchor Liberty and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale have all that spirited bourbon character. I can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

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Original Lite Beer Can Coming Back

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These always give me a chuckle. Whenever sales are flagging, one of the strategies employed by the bigger beer companies to reverse their fortunes is to change the packaging. Earlier this month, Miller sent out a press release, “Celebrate Miller Time with the Light Beer that Started It All.” They’re bringing back the original can design for Miller Lite, their unnatural abomination of a diet beer. My thoughts on low-calorie light beer are very opinionated, and none too positive, for example read Disrespecting Low-Calorie Light Beer and No Defense For Light Beer.

MILLER LITE ORIGINAL LITE CAN

Here’s the press release:

The Original Lite Can features the familiar images of hops, barley and the words “a fine pilsner beer,” which reinforce the high quality ingredients and the unique brewing process that consumers have enjoyed for generations.

“There was a time when all that existed was heavy beer that weighed you down,” said Elina Vives, marketing director for Miller Lite. “The launch of Miller Lite broke this category convention and offered beer drinkers the best of both worlds, great taste at only 96 calories and 3.2 carbs. Miller Lite is the original light beer and this limited-edition can celebrates that innovation and helps inform consumers of the rich history behind our beer.”

In addition to becoming available to consumers in January, the Original Lite Can will appear in the upcoming Paramount Pictures’ release, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The news team can be seen enjoying the Original Lite in the film, which will be released nationwide December 18.

The limited-edition Original Lite Can will be available nationwide January through March in 12-, 16- and 24-ounce sizes.

All well and good, but sheesh, why not just make a beer that people would want to drink, not one you have to market and advertise to death to create demand? Can people really be nostalgic for that can design? But that seems to be used a marketing tactic every few years, to change the package, the label or something along those lines. It’s indicative of a culture that’s long ago abandoned the importance of what’s inside the package and instead has been concentrating on the external. Sure, how the packaging looks is important, but it’s not more important than the beer, and for big beer companies it surely seems like marketing has trumped any other concerns for many, many years.

MILLER LITE ORIGINAL LITE CAN
Calling it a “Pilsner beer,” of course, strains the notion of what a pilsner is.

No Defense For Light Beer

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Ever since I first read about this in Beer Business Daily, it’s been bothering me, but I’ve been unable to read the original editorial by David Ryder, who’s the Vice-President of Brewing for MillerCoors. It supposedly ran in the Chicago-Sun Times, but they apparently do not have that particular editorial online and their search engine only allows searching their archives for articles written in 2011 or before. But apparently on July 4, he wrote an op-ed piece, “In Defense of Light Beer,” though I imagine he would have preferred the spelling “lite beer.” Now, without having even read it, you have to be suspicious of it for no other reason then he owes much of his living to the continued sales and popularity of low-calorie light beer. As Upton Sinclair famously observed. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But here’s what I do know, as reported by Beer Business Daily:

“It’s absolutely true that U.S. beer drinkers have more choices than ever before, from spicy saisons to big imperial stouts to hoppy IPAs. It’s a wonderful development that brings energy and excitement to brewing.

“But it’s also true that, faced with all those choices, American beer drinkers still overwhelmingly choose American light lagers over all others.

“That fact often draws the scorn and condescension of beer ‘aficionados,’ not to mention the news media. Not too long ago, the financial newswire Bloomberg News derided light lagers as ‘barley water’ in a story on our sales trends.

“The lighter take on beer exemplified by American pilsners and lagers is an authentic and widely admired style. In fact, it is the very first style of beer listed in the Beer Judge Certification Program. I have worked as a brewer in some 20 countries on five continents. I can assure you that this is the most emulated and difficult-to-brew beer style in the world.”

David points out that in the old days before light beer, “beer was a food staple” but Adolph Coors and Adolphus Busch changed beer to be seen as “as a form of refreshment and pioneered new brands to meet changing consumer preferences.” He also points out that “light beers are incredibly difficult to brew. Heavy, sometimes cloudy, beers can mask brewing imperfections. But with light beers, the slightest irregularity is glaring to the taste buds. Consistently replicating these delicate flavors and aromas requires a remarkable level of brewing skill and precision.”

To the point he makes about the difficulty of making light beer, while I generally admire the science of brewing that the big breweries have developed and the difficulty of consistently brewing light beers, where flaws are nearly impossible to hide, that admiration does not extend to the products themselves. No matter how difficult they are to make, that still doesn’t excuse their existence, or make them a beer that I’d ever want to drink. To me, they are still an abomination, a science experiment gone awry. There’s no reason to sacrifice flavor to save a mere pittance of calories. Beer is not particularly fattening, especially if you drink it in moderation. The easiest way to reduce your caloric intake of beer is not to choose the latest scientifically engineered slightly lower-calorie beer, but to simply drink less bottles, cans or pints. Drink less, but drink better is always a good rule of thumb.

A little over a week after Ryder’s op-ed appeared, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Herb Gould also examined Ryder’s assertions. In his column Thirsting for some better pilsners, he claims to be a homebrewer, but one who will drink apparently any beer. He offers that he’s “not a beer snob,” but “simply like[s] beers that, well, taste better than what the Big Two offer.” Despite this apparent contradiction, he applauds Ryder for his “much-needed defense of American pilsners,” continuing. “As he said, it’s an American classic. When you’re watching a ballgame on a hot day, when you’re enjoying a big steak, or a nice piece of salmon, nothing’s better than a well-bittered but not too heavy lager.”

Except that light beers are not “well-bittered” and they’re not pilsners, American or otherwise. They may have been based upon pilsners once upon a time, but they have diverged so far from that purported origin that they bear little resemblance to pilsners from the Czech Republic, Germany or any other place on the planet. They have become, as even David Ryder notes, a separate category of beer all to themselves.

He claims surprise “that the little breweries don’t seem interested in making a nice pilsner — or a better version of Budweiser or Miller High Life” and later in his column challenges what he terms “earnest little micro-breweries” to “[g]ive us more and better All-American pilsners.” I’m not sure where he’s been going to find his beer, because there are literally hundreds of great pilsners made by craft brewers of all sizes. Right in my backyard, the Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley only makes one beer, a fantastic pilsner that’s exactly what Gould claims to want in a “quality pilsner — a beer that’s on the lighter side but has nothing to be ashamed of. A beer that’s got a little bite, has a nice layer of flavor but doesn’t shout out anything fancy.”

A beer fitting that description, frankly, is not all that difficult to find. Of the Top 50 Czech Pilsners on Beer Advocate, 36 of them are made in the U.S. and for the Top 50 German Pilsners, 34 are American-made. Good American pilsners are everywhere if you know where to look.

And quite frankly, the reason he may be having trouble finding one is that he admits he “will drink MillerCoors or Budweiser products, but only if more ambitious choices are not available, which is often the case.” But that’s never going to change if he just accepts what beers they have and fails to tell the bars he frequents that he would prefer “more ambitious choices.” If he keeps ordering whatever is available, there’s absolutely no incentive for the bar to stock “more ambitious choices.” He seems to wear not being a beer snob as a badge of honor, but he’s doing himself and craft beer no favors by settling for whatever beers a bar decides to carry. Asking, or even insisting, on the beers you want is not being a snob, but is simply the only way to effect change and get the beers you actually want. Can you imagine being hungry for a steak and going to a restaurant, only to find out the only kind they have is Salisbury steak, and just settling for that, especially when there are other steak restaurants right around the corner? Vote for what you want with your wallet. Buy what you actually want, don’t just settle for whatever’s put in front of you. Seriously, who lives that way?

But I think his way of thinking is pretty common, and is a big reason why light beer and other less-flavorful beers continue to be so popular. It’s simply that people who are not as fanatical as the average beer geek just don’t care enough to bother. There’s enough to worry about in people’s everyday lives, and we all decide what things we’ll make a priority and what we’ll just accept and not fuss too much about. And in that, the big breweries have the advantage.

Think about colas, for example. There are people who really care that they drink only Coke or Pepsi. They’re fanatical about it. My grandmother was a Pepsi person. She hated Coke. But there are countless people who just don’t care. You see it at restaurants all the time. “Can I have a Coke, please.” The waitress replies, “we only have Pepsi.” And how often have you heard this? “That’s fine. No problem. Whatever.” And so it is with beer. You’re out for lunch or dinner and want a beer. More often than not, most people will just accept whatever beer is offered. It’s the reason that distribution and availability are so crucial to success. Simply have your beer available at more places than your competitor and you’ll most likely do better. Because most people in such a situation will just capitulate and order from what’s available rather than make a fuss or ask for something else or, perish the thought, not patronize that bar or restaurant.

So simply having deep distribution and being available everywhere will sustain light beer for years to come, so long as people don’t speak up. Because until Gould and a majority of people do care enough to insist on what they put in their bodies, the big companies that can afford national advertising budgets and can make their products available everywhere, those light beer makers will continue to flourish, and little will change in the world of beer.

But let’s get back to Ryder, and some of his arguments in defense of light beer. Here’s just a few of the earlier statements Ryder makes that I disagree with.

  • The lighter take on beer exemplified by American pilsners and lagers is an authentic and widely admired style:

    Widely admired by whom, exactly? Sales do not automatically equal admiration. The reasons any product is popular is not that it’s the best one available. Often it’s the cheapest, most available or has the highest advertising budget. Wonder bread my be the best-selling bread in America, but does anyone actually think it’s the best bread money can buy? People drink light beer because they’re bombarded with marketing and advertising, have been tricked into thinking they’re not sacrificing flavor and/or don’t really think (or care) about their choices. And as for its “authenticity,” I don’t even know what he’s talking about, do you? They’re not “pilsners” by any stretch of the imagination and they may be among the groups of beers described as lagers, but they exist in their own world, as a separate category. That a new category was created so that similar beers could be tasted and judged with other similar beers, does not make them authentic, which is defined as “not false or copied; genuine; real.” Given that “light beers” are lighter, less flavorful beers copied from true pilsners and rendered into a false version of them, I’d argue they’re the very opposite of authentic.

  • In fact, it is the very first style of beer listed in the Beer Judge Certification Program:

    Why yes, yes they are. But that fact has absolutely nothing to do with authenticity or any positive attribute. The BJCP style guidelines are organized roughly by lagers, ales and hybrids, from lightest (and sometimes) weakest to darkest or stronger. Light lagers, being the lightest in color and weakest in terms of flavor are listed first. It is not because they are the most authentic or any other reason that anyone might consider because they are somehow more favored or the best. And, I suspect, Mr. Ryder must know that their position in the list is utterly meaningless such that trying to defend light beer using this argument is completely disingenuous and intentionally misleading.

  • It’s also true that, faced with all those choices, American beer drinkers still overwhelmingly choose American light lagers over all others:

    Yes, that may be true but it hardly proves that this is because light beer is somehow a superior product. As I argued above, marketing, advertising and manipulating consumers over decades is responsible for light beer’s popularity. It’s certainly not its taste or any actual health benefits over other beers.

The true reason that the big breweries have focused on low-calorie beers has more to do with business, and the bottom line, than health or any altruistic reasons. In fact, the earliest diet beers had a very difficult time finding a market. Men, by far the largest gender drinking beer when they were introduced, had to be convinced over a long period of time that they should drink light beer. And let’s not forget that low-calorie beers use less ingredients than their more flavorful counterparts, but yet are sold for the same prince point. You don’t even have to be very cynical to realize that they’re more profitable and to see why breweries might have put more effort into selling them.

Gablingers-Beer

The first low-calorie beer was created by Joe Owedes, who, it must be said, had some very strong opinions about beer. He once told me that all ale yeast was dead and inferior to lager yeast. Around 1967, he created Gablinger’s diet beer, the first light beer, while working for Rheingold. It flopped. Big time. Not everybody agrees on what happened next. Some accounts credit Owedes with sharing his recipe for light beer with Meister Brau of Chicago while others claim that the Peter Hand Brewing Company (which marketed Meister Brau) came up with it independently on their own. However it happened, Meister Brau Lite proved somewhat more successful than Gablinger’s, primarily due to its superior marketing. Miller Brewing later acquired Meister Brau, and in 1975 debuted Miller Lite, complete with the distinctive, trademark-able spelling.

Meister-Brau-Lite-1969

But it took marketing the new low-calorie beer in a new way so that it removed the “diet” stigma to make it work. They had to trick people into drinking it. Miller’s famously successful “tastes great, less filling” campaign was the primary reason for the category’s success. But it was hardly overnight. It took fifteen years — from 1975 to 1990 — for Miller Lite to reach 10% of the market. Over that time, the other big brewers (loathe to miss out on any market share) introduced their own versions, such as Coors Light and Bud Light, so that whole segment of low-calorie beer was nearly 30% of the beer market by 1990.

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Today, seven of the top ten big brands are light beers. Despite its recent dip in sales, it remains a $50 billion segment of the business and still hovers close to half of all beer sold in the United States. That fact, I find to be incredibly sad, frankly. What a great triumph of marketing over common sense and actual taste.

Earlier this year, Ryder gave a talk on beer in Milwaukee, entitled the Science of Beer, where he extolled the recent changes in people’s attitudes toward beer. “‘People are rediscovering beer,’ he said. ‘They’re gaining a brand new appreciation of what beer is and what beer could be.’” And to my way of thinking, what beer is and what beer can be is just so much more than low-calorie light beer. I find that there’s just no defense for light beer.

MillerCoors Looking To Hire Bay Area Beer Ambassador

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Thanks to an alert reader, Susan G., who noticed this video about a Monster.com job posting for an “Import & Craft Trade Brewer” position in the Bay Area advertised by MillerCoors. Actually, the person hired will work for 10th & Blake, which is their craft and import division. The company is looking for “a beer ambassador and homebrewing coach in the western U.S. [to] Teach sales teams and consult on new beer recipes.” They want someone who “knows all things beer.”

MillerCoors’ Tenth & Blake Buys Crispin Cider

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Amid recent rumors, the Tenth and Blake Beer Company, the craft-and-import division MillerCoors created last year, announced today that they’re purchasing Crispin Cider, which includes both the Crispin and Fox Barrel hard cider brands.

Crispin-Cider

From the press release:

Minneapolis-based Crispin sold its first cases on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25, 2008. The company grew approximately 200 percent in 2011, outpacing the overall cider category’s 26 percent growth during the same period, and is already the No. 3 producer of cider in the U.S.

“Our vision is to accelerate our portfolio expansion within the world’s most exciting beer market. With cider’s explosion in the U.S., we were looking at the best way to participate in that growth,” said Tenth and Blake President and CEO Tom Cardella. “As we explored the category, Crispin stood out, not only because they were the most progressive and innovative producer, but also because we shared great personal chemistry. In addition to the best cider portfolio in the business, we love their energy, creativity and unsurpassed innovation capability. They make us an even better company right away.”

The deal includes Crispin’s affiliate, Fox Barrel Cider Company.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the Tenth and Blake family,” said Joe Heron, Crispin’s CEO. “We’ve always had very ambitious plans, and we’re proud of what we’re achieving with great products and an unrivaled creativity that mirrors the inspirational American craft-beer ethos. Tenth and Blake provides us the capability to scale up at the same pace as our increasingly accelerating demand in the U.S. and beyond.”

Crispin Cider Company produces European-style natural hard apple ciders using fermented unpasteurized fresh-pressed apple juice in Original, Light and Brut varietals, as well as additional unfiltered Artisanal Reserves — Honey Crisp, Lansdowne, The Saint and Cho-tokkyu, and also imports a classic English Dry Cider, Crispin Browns Lane.

Crispin affiliate, Fox Barrel Cider Company, is dedicated to the production of superior pure pear ciders, using fermented unpasteurized fresh-pressed pear juice. Available in Pacific Pear, Blackberry Pear and Apricot Pear varietals and additional unfiltered Cidery Reserves — Ginger & Blackcurrant and Rhubarb & Elderberry.

Crispin will be run as an independent division of Tenth and Blake.

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In addition to these two cider brands, Tenth and Blake also controls the following brands: “Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the Sandlot in Denver, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, Wis., 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, AC Golden in Golden, Colorado, Birra Peroni in Rome and Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Tenth and Blake beers include Blue Moon Belgian White, Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss, George Killian’s Irish Red, Batch 19, Henry Weinhard’s IPA, Colorado Native, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Grolsch.”

MillerCoors Launches Craft & Import Division

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While MillerCoors had already announced their intention to start up a new division dedicated to its smaller brands and imports, today they announced that Tenth and Blake Brewing Co. was open for business. There’s no website yet, but there is a Facebook page.

Here’s the press release:

Tenth and Blake Beer Company Opens for Business

Earlier this summer, MillerCoors announced plans for a new company focused on craft and import beers, aimed at strengthening relationships within the beer industry and enhancing the overall segment’s volume and growth. Today, to reflect the passion, great brewing tradition and entrepreneurial spirit of its beer brands, the company announced its new moniker. Tenth and Blake Beer Company is now officially open for business.

“This is a unique and exciting period in the beer business,” said Tom Cardella, the company’s CEO and President. “With the added focus on our craft and import brands and the talent within our brewing network, Tenth and Blake Beer Company has the opportunity to make an impact and continue to help grow this segment. We’re made up of passionate brewers and merchants of the world’s finest specialty brews, and we look forward to celebrating the joy of beer with beer drinkers throughout the U.S.”

The organization wanted a name that reflects its great beer heritage from MillerCoors, while highlighting its unique and differentiated position in the industry. The 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee brews Leinenkugel’s and various specialty beers. And Blake Street in Denver is home to the Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot. These facilities will be primary sources of many of the company’s brews, while serving as incubators of ideas and future beers.

The company’s network of brewing expertise extends beyond Denver and Milwaukee, with the Leinenkugel’s Brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wis. and the AC Golden brewery in Golden, Colo. In addition to craft brews like Blue Moon, Leinenkugel’s, and Colorado Native, Tenth and Blake Beer Company features top imports, such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell and Grolsch.

“Employees of Tenth and Blake Beer Company will take beer passion, education and capabilities to the next level,” Cardella said. “All team members will participate in training at one of our breweries, take part in beer merchant sessions and go through sales training to better understand and serve our customers.”

As an independent yet connected company, Tenth and Blake will own the strategic business drivers — marketing, trade marketing and an independent sales organization dedicated to the craft and imports business. The company will in-source other capabilities from MillerCoors, including legal, communications, HR, marketing services and consumer insights.

Hmm, I’m not sure what to make of that. Is it an admission that such a large, global company is too big to think small in the way one needs to for promoting and successfully selling smaller, niche brands? Or is it simply easier to parse out the tasks to two independent groups, one that has to think big picture, freeing the other to think small and more local? On the other hand, with sales of core brands flat or soft, perhaps it makes sense to give more focus to the smaller brands that actually are doing well.

Harry Schuhmacher from Beer Business Daily, reports that “Tom, in a letter to distributors obtained by BBD, writes that they have built a team of ‘brewers and merchants of the world’s finest specialty brews, celebrating the joy of beer with our customers and consumers’ to build a ‘deeper relationship’ with customers.” That sounds a little too rah-rah for my tastes, but then that was probably its intention.

Schuhmacher spoke to Tenth and Blake head honcho Tom Cardella, and he told him the following:

Tom says that their “entire team will participate in specially designed on-boarding programs that will include spending several weeks working inside our breweries and being certified in our beer merchant training. And everyone from the janitor to the CEO will go through sales training to better understand and serve our distributor and retailer customers. We will be an organization of merchants sharing our love of our great beers and creating value in the market.”

The new unit will have a “dedicated new sales organization” that will bring “focus” and they will provide a “dedicated supply chain function to ensure coordination of the fine motor skills needed to service smaller specialty brands” while still providing the services of a big corporation with regards to “legal, communications, HR, marketing services and consumer insights.”

The new unit will develop “distributor beer merchants (DBMs) in a whole lot of markets working side-by-side with you, our distributor partners.” DBMs will be “soley” dedicated to their import and craft brands with dedicated brewery “managers” who will “own and execute the craft and import portfolio for each of their respective management units, delivering wins to our general managers.”

And the Milwaukee Business Journal added:

MillerCoors’ 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee brews Leinenkugel’s and various specialty beers, and Blake Street in Denver is home to the Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the Sandlot. The facilities will be primary sources of many of the company’s brews, while serving as incubators of ideas and future beers, the Chicago-based brewer said.

MillerCoors also operates the Jacob Leinenkugel’s Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls and the AC Golden brewery in Golden, Colo. In addition to craft brews like Blue Moon, Leinenkugel’s and Colorado Native, Tenth and Blake Beer Company will be responsible for imports such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell and Grolsch.

Actually, according to the Facebook page, here’s the list of beers Tenth & Blake will be responsible for:

  • AC Golden brands (see below)
  • Aguila
  • Batch 19
  • Blue Moon
  • Colorado Native (AC Golden)
  • Cristal
  • Cusquena
  • Grolsch
  • Henry Weinhard’s
  • Herman Joseph’s (AC Golden)
  • Kasteel Cru
  • Killian’s
  • Lech
  • Leinenkugel’s
  • Peroni
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Sandlot brands (Brewmaster’s Special, Ski Brews, Barmen, Championship Amber Ale, Right Field Red, Slugger Stout, Power Alley ESB)
  • Tyskie
  • Winterfest (AC Golden)

That should keep them busy.

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Clear As Mud

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While clear beer is not exactly new, it has never proved economically successful despite polling that seems to suggest people would drink it. In the real world, once faced with a purchasing decision, people don’t buy beer that doesn’t look like beer. Thank goodness. The first clear malt beverage I recall trying was Zima, when it debuted in 1993, also from Coors. Though it wasn’t a beer per se, it was malt based and somewhat similar. It eventually got lumped into the Alcopop category, though it was not originally marketed that way, but simply as an alternative to beer. The first true clear beer, also from 1993, was Miller Clear.

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Happily, it failed in test marketing and was halted in October of that year. I’m sure this ad, by Don Austin Creative, had nothing to do with its lack of success.

Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Miller’s Clear Beer, back in 1994:

Clear Beer was never available in the UK, but I encountered it in the United States, where it was presented in marketingspeak as “in the finest tradition of the Miller Brewing Company, full-flavored but without heaviness”.

This curious product was a lager the colour of 7-Up, which formed little head and tasted like a sweetened seltzer with the faintest touch of oily, medicinal happiness in the finish. It looked like a soft drink, but contained 4.6 per cent alcohol by volume, a level found in many “premium” lagers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Miller has a history of trying to remove the character from beer. It popularised Lite Beer, memorably described as “wet air” by the native American writer William Least-Heat Moon; and it marketed a so-called Genuine Draft in a can long before Irish and British brewers developed their rather better approximation.

But as George Santayana wrote in Reason in Common Sense. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Seventeen years later, apparently nobody at MolsonCoors or MillerCoors is a student of history. MolsonCoors’ UK division, who launched the BitterSweet Partnership to reach female beer drinkers and increase their numbers, has announced they’ll be introducing a clear beer to the UK market. The full story can be found in Marketing Magazine and the UK’s Metro.

Bitter-Sweet

To me, the BitterSweet Partnership is ridiculous (as is the similar Dea Latis). First of all, none of the female beer writers or brewers I know are involved in the organization, it’s strictly about marketing. The whole “team” is made of female Coors UK employees, and they’re all from HR, sales, finance, etc. I’m sure they’re lovely people but they’re hardly experts on beer. The notion of finding female-friendly beer seems wrong on so many levels. Beer is beer. Trying to make one that’s strictly for women is absurd. Remember Virginia Slims — cigarettes for women? It also reminds me of something Lionel Trains did back in the mid-20th century. They made pink trains with pastel-colored cars aimed specifically at girls. Guess what, it flopped because the girls wanted real trains like the ones their brothers had, not some watered down girly trains some marketing pinhead thought would appeal to them.

So far, the beer has no name — and they’ll be a naming contest to come up with one. That should be good for a laugh. Then it won’t be available on draft, bottles only, because in polling 30,000 women, a majority were convinced that bottles “offer better protection against having them spiked in bars and pubs.” WTF? Since when did that become a major problem? And if it has, I’d think there were more pressing concerns like stopping an entire nation of men from poisoning the opposite sex. Additional research shows that the women polled think beer is “too calorific and a ‘man’s drink.’” Please tell me we’ve moved beyond such stereotypes? Apparently not. Who are these people? No woman I know thinks like that.

In a related bit of nonsense, the BitterSweet Partnership also has research showing “that 31% of women thought beer glassware is ‘ugly and manly.’” Seriously? Again, these must be some of the strangest women on the planet, and lots of less kind epithets spring to mind. Who thinks “I’d love to drink that tasty beverage, if only it came in a glass I liked better?” Let’s ignore centuries of trial and error to get to the right glassware — flutes for champagne, snifters for brandy, a weissbier vase for wheat beers — and bow to a minority of women whose sense of fashion dictates what they drink. WTF? Let’s not try to educate them why they’re complete morons. Even though 69% think that beer glassware is fine the way it is, they’ve instead opted to design “four new glasses to serve beer in to bring a bit more style into the drinking experience,” whatever that means. You can see the four designs that were voted on here. Below is the “winner.”

lyla-black

First of all, you can’t even see the beer you’d be drinking in the glass, whether it’s clear or not. What a terrible idea that is. But that’s what misinformation and ignorance will get you. How stylish. What unmitigated bullshit.

While I can’t pretend to speak for women or give the woman’s perspective on this, happily, both Julie from Brusin’ Ales and Ashley at the Beer Wench have ranted beautifully about it and are as angry and offended by it as I would have expected. Their screeds mirror what I’d think would be the response from any self-respecting female fan of craft beer.

MillerCoors: Is A Global Merger Possible?

millercoors
Several sources are pointing out a Reuters interview last week with Peter Swinburn, head of MolsonCoors. In that interview, Swinburn suggests that while he considers his company to be a “buyer,” he doesn’t discount the notion that MolsonCoors could be a takeover target. He further remarked that “SABMiller, Molson’s partner in the MillerCoors joint venture, would be a natural fit as a buyer.” While going on to say he doesn’t believe that will happen, this is, after all, how these types of things begin. A rumor that’s denied and discounted by all involved parties becoming a reality is nothing new, so you never know. Currently SABMiller is the 2nd largest global beer company and MolsonCoors in sixth. Though a merger wouldn’t eclipse A-B InBev at the top spot, it would move them closer together. Only time will tell.

Macro Beer Prices Finally Going Up

abib
(updated below)

Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABIB) announced a couple of days ago that come fall, their prices would be going up. MillerCoors also made it clear that they would be taking a price increase as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the largest U.S. beer seller by revenue, and MillerCoors LLC will increase beer prices in the majority of their U.S. sales regions, the two companies said Tuesday.” Bloomberg added that, at least for ABIB, “the plan has met with “general acceptance” from retailers.”

Finally. This will probably end up being controversial — though it shouldn’t be — but I think that’s very good news. For a long while now, the major beer companies have all kept their prices to consumers artificially low to maintain their volume sales. Part of the reason is simply the competition among one another — the big guys that is — and none of them wanting to be the company that blinks first. I’ve watched this for many years, especially when I was a beer buyer for a chain of California stores, when each year the big companies would try to keep their price increases as small as possible. Now obviously, no company wants to raise its prices too much, but in the big beer business the increases over time have not kept pace with inflation and especially with the rise of ingredient costs and other factors, such as transportation, fuel, etc. There are likely several reasons for that, but chief among them is needing to keep sales volume up in order to maintain and increase the share price. And so over the past decade or two, none of the big beer companies have taken prices increases up as far as they otherwise would have if they were just looking at the cost to wholesale/retail price ratio. Even with the economy tanking, eventually someone has to blink. ABIB, with the InBev predisposition toward profit at all costs, seems poised to end this period of artificially low price points.

A side benefit for them, though most likely merely an externality, is that the price difference between the average big beer and a craft beer has widened, giving the impression that the macro beers are a far greater value. That’s because most craft brewers have not had the resources to do likewise and the price of their beer is more realistic, taking into account all their costs for ingredients, transportation, staff, and costs of doing business. A few have tried to keep the price to wholesalers down, but the increase in hops, barley and fuel over the last two years has made that increasingly difficult, even for the larger craft breweries. If ABIB raises their price (and MillerCoors follows suit, as they usually do) to more realistic levels, the price differential between a big beer and a craft beer should decrease, making it more likely that consumers might trade up to a craft beer, if the difference isn’t as great in doing so. Because of the economy, that’s already happening to some extent, with craft beer being seen as an affordable luxury from two directions. One, some people are trading down from more expensive bottles of wine or spirits to more affordable craft beer and, two, people trading up and treating themselves to a nice of bottle of beer, which isn’t stretching their wallet as much as a more expensive beverage. But if the price gap shrinks, we should see an increase in craft beer sales.

On the other hand, although it’s not a popular stance, I’ve long thought that craft beer should be more expensive than it is. It should be priced according to its value instead of against the more popular, but inferior tasting products. Organic food offers a good analogy. Organic food is more expensive to grow for a variety of reasons and thus costs more in the grocery store. But if people aren’t willing to pay a little bit more for it, it will disappear entirely and we’ll have little choice in the food we eat. Luckily, many people recognize that organic food, despite its more expensive price tag, offers additional benefits that make its increased price worthwhile. In a sense, you get what you pay for. If organic food tastes better, is healthier for you, often keeps money in the local economy, and is better in the long run for the planet’s sustainability, paying a little bit more for it isn’t just a good idea, but a moral imperative. I believe the same applies to craft beer.

We all tend to look for whatever is the cheapest and often forget about what “value” even means. I’m as guilty as the next guy, but I try to consider it whenever possible. We’ve all been indoctrinated with the idea — the “Wal-Mart Syndrome” — that value means cheaper, but that’s just not the case. If I pay more for a better constructed (and probably more comfortable) pair of shoes, and they last twice as long as the cheap pair, the expensive ones are the better value. Similarly, if I spend more more for a bottle of good beer, it will taste better and I’ll enjoy it more, making it a far better value.

A motto for this idea could be “drink less, enjoy it more.” That might not work for large companies that depend on volume, but there plenty of small sustainable craft breweries for whom that model would work perfectly. All we have to do is be willing to pay the price.

UPDATE: The L.A. Times ran a story yesterday entitled Is the Price Increase Justified?, citing a supply management expert, Bob Zieger, who took “issue with the idea that “general commodity prices” are behind beer price increases.” He continued:

“After all, beer is not made from a combination of pork bellies, copper and cocoa. Its key price drivers, like hops and barley, are actually not experiencing a serious price increase right now. If there was ever a time to blame commodity costs for a necessary price increase, it was last year,” Zieger said.

As any brewer can tell you, hop prices have not returned to the levels they were three years ago, nor have barley prices, though they have abated a little better than hops. Of course, hops and barley aren’t the only cost increases, as fuel and transportation costs have skyrocketed, too. Naturally, Zieger has a blog — doesn’t everybody? — called Supply Excellence where he expands his criticism. I think it’s unfortunate that the L.A. Times cited him as an expert because while he may know a lot about supply management and commodities generally, he doesn’t know the brewing industry, its particularities and the history of this issue. This gives a bad impression, I think, since it’s the only criticism they cite and in fact his thoughts were the story. While he’s certainly welcome to voice his opinion — and it was interesting to read his full blog post — it seems odd, and perhaps even a little wrong, for the L.A. Times to do a story calling into question one of the reasons given for an increase of beer prices without having any contrary opinion or indeed any person connected with the beer industry who knows anything about it. That just seems like irresponsible journalism to present one man’s opinion as a news story. Isn’t that what the op-ed section is for?